(National Poetry Month, Day 6)


It’s getting late, and I’m getting tired! But I couldn’t let day 6 of National Poetry Month go by without sharing a poem with you.


Tonight’s selection is “The Ballad of Father Gilligan” by W.B. Yeats. This poem is appropriate for those who feel overworked or overwhelmed, and for those who believe in miracles. It’s based on an Irish folk tale, and Yeats adapted it into poetic form to appeal to his audience, who fit the three criteria mentioned in the previous sentence.


“The Ballad of Father Gilligan”

by W.B. Yeats

The old priest Peter Gilligan

Was weary night and day;

For half his flock were in their beds,

Or under green sods lay.

Once, while he nodded on a chair,

At the moth-hour of eve,

Another poor man sent for him,

And he began to grieve.

“I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,

For people die and die”;

And after cried he, “God forgive!

My body spake, not I!”

He knelt, and leaning on the chair

He prayed and fell asleep;

And the moth-hour went from the fields,

And stars began to peep.

They slowly into millions grew,

And leaves shook in the wind;

And God covered the world with shade,

And whispered to mankind.

Upon the time of sparrow-chirp

When the moths came once more.

The old priest Peter Gilligan

Stood upright on the floor.

“Mavrone, mavrone! The man had died

While I slept on the chair”;

He roused his horse out of its sleep,

And rode with little care.

He rode now as he never rode,

By rocky lane and fen;

The sick man’s wife opened the door:

“Father! You come again!”

“And is the poor man dead?” he cried.

“He died an hour ago”.

The old priest Peter Gilligan

In grief swayed to and fro.

“When you were gone, he turned and died

As merry as a bird.”

The old priest Peter Gilligan

He knelt him at that word.

“He who hath made the night of stars

For souls who tire and bleed,

Sent one of His great angels down

To help me in my need.

“He Who is wrapped in purple robes,

With planets in His care,

Had pity on the least of things

Asleep upon a chair.”


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